On a gloomy Friday evening in Nagpur, Faiz Fazal sat down with a piping hot cup of coffee, chatting actively about the myriad facets of life and of course, cricket.
He dipped into conversations about his hobbies, his traits and his ability to switch on and switch off, according to the situation. Yet, amongst all those discussions, it was the clarity he portrayed while conversing that stood out.
And, in an instant, one is captured by the charisma, charm and persona of the Vidarbha skipper. Subsequently, it wasn’t too hard to comprehend how he captained a side, previously regarded as also-rans, to glory in the domestic circuit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Faiz’s journey started back in the early 2000s, when he captured the imagination of each cricket fanatic with a spectacular 183 against Railways in the Under-19 category. A prolific run-getter in the age group sections, the opener then earned a spot in the Indian U-19 side for the 2004 U-19 World Cup, which was to be held in Bangladesh.
Unfortunately for him, an appearance didn’t come to fruition as he broke his left thumb, days before the tournament. In his absence, Shikhar Dhawan shone and plundered runs for fun, thereby creating a feeling of what could’ve been, had Faiz also been able to participate.
However, the left-handed batsman, despite being disappointed, took it in his stride. He strived for excellence thereafter and the one step he traversed backwards in 2004 ultimately allowed him to climb several rungs up the ladder in his career.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Faiz opened up on how he overcame the setback, wherein he hugely credited his family and close circle back home.
He said, “Obviously I was disappointed at missing out on the opportunity. But, when I returned home, my family and those around me taught me how to take such situations positively. In the process, they made me understand the fine line that exists between being disappointed and being discouraged and how avoiding the latter helps you improve as an individual. And, eventually, life is full of experiences, whether it be for the better or worse. Hence, it is important to cherish each one of those.”
A constant fixture in the Vidardha team in the latter half of the 2000s, Faiz continued to score runs and impressed several cricket enthusiasts in the process.
However, he took a slight detour before the 2009-10 season when he signed up to play for Railways in the Ranji Trophy.
On being quizzed about the decision, he opined that he wanted to play in the elite division, hoping that the selectors would then recognise his calibre. Moreover, the presence of Murali Kartik and Sanjay Bangar convinced him to make the move to Delhi.
Yet, that particular stint didn’t quite go to plan. And, with Nagpur still very close to his heart, a return to Vidarbha beckoned.
When asked about how the tenure influenced him as a cricketer and as a person, he replied “Well, staying in Delhi made me mentally stronger. Also, I spent quite a bit of time with Bangar, JP Yadav, Karn Sharma and Kartik, picking up numerous nuances to improve my game. And, when I returned to Vidarbha, I was welcomed back with open arms, enabling my second spell to start on a smooth footing.”
The next few seasons saw the left-hander being a consistent performer for his side. However, the breakthrough term arrived in 2015-16, when he enjoyed a superlative season.
He capped it off by scoring a century in the Deodhar Trophy Final and another ton in the Irani Trophy as the Rest of India successfully scaled down a 480-run fourth innings peak.
Consequently, he earned his first national call-up when India toured Zimbabwe in 2016. Though he played just a solitary ODI, he managed to notch up a half-century. Unluckily, that has proven to be his only Indian cap, yet.
However, he still believes that he can represent his nation in the longest format. He quipped,
“I feel I can still contribute a lot and hopefully, play for India in the Test format. Moreover, I feel that people have a wrong notion about being on the wrong side of 30. In my opinion, if one is fit enough and can compete with the youngsters on merit without being a burden on the team, one should be in the side, especially taking into account the experience that the cricketer might bring to the table.”
Having said that though, he isn’t putting too much pressure on himself, rather prioritising preparation over possible outcomes.
Yet, as a neutral, one can’t help but feel amazed at the consistent omission of players like Fazal from the India A and national set-up.
Similarly, others from the title-winning Vidarbha side, cricketers of the ilk of Aditya Sarwate, Akshay Wadkar and Akshay Wakhare, have also found themselves frozen on the fringes, making the selectors’ decision even more perplexing.
On being asked how these facets affect the aforementioned players, Faiz replied, “It acts as an extra motivation for us, obviously. We don’t really worry about the selection because it isn’t in our hands. But, I still feel a tinge of value should be given to the Ranji Trophy performances, considering it is the most rigorous form of domestic cricket across the country. Else, the motivation of cricketers to do well might just die down a touch.”
A leader par excellence, he also talked about how the ability to come out fighting when one’s back is against the wall, distinguishes the good from the great cricketers, a quality that he has ingrained in the Vidarbha outfit.
And, those attributes came to the fore during last season’s semi-final against Kerala, a game that ended inside two days. He scored 75 in the first innings and that laid the platform for his side to march into the finals.
Recalling the aforementioned match, he remarked, “That wicket was probably one of the most dangerous pitches I have ever batted on. Before the game, I was getting out so often in the nets. But, I believed in myself and that allowed me to play an innings of such substance.”
Additionally, he doesn’t want the members of his squad to compete on the individual front with each other, rather focussing on imbibing an environment of healthy competition, where the team is the primary beneficiary.
Consequently, he has helped evolve his side into an outfit whose whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
With another lengthy season ahead for Vidarbha, the skipper emphasised the need for each of his players to be in the best possible shape, both mentally and physically, considering the eventualities that might come around during the course of the campaign.
“And, probably if we win the title for the third time running, our performances will get recognised,” he chuckled.
Over the past few years, not many have scored as many runs as Faiz and in as many diverse conditions as the opener. Yet, rather puzzlingly, he has failed to garner the eyeballs of those who matter, leading one to debate whether an end product indeed ranks higher than perceived flamboyance nowadays.
However, the Vidarbha captain has segregated the positives from the rough patches and blended them into his system, thereby serving the perfect portrait of doggedness, passion, talent and tenacity.
In his own words, he admitted his journey as a cricketer had been comparable to that of a roller coaster, where each crest and trough helped him emerge better from the rubble, that is life.
That, more than anything else, would end up defining Faiz Fazal, irrespective of whether he makes any further appearances for India or not.
After all, it takes a champion to keep banging at the door incessantly, despite everything else contriving to not keep it ajar.
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